Research in 2018 showed that half of all adults in the UK did not have a Will in place, with this figure rising to almost 60% among parents. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, a few more people have had the time and inclination to get their affairs in order.
Some may believe that a ‘cheap’ or DIY Will may be sufficient. However, asking a solicitor to sit down with you and advise you on the preparation of your Will is seriously worth considering and, in most cases, vital for effective estate planning. This is particularly important for anyone with assets worth over the inheritance tax threshold (currently £325,000), overseas assets, minor children or grandchildren or close family members, a complex family unit, perhaps with children from a previous marriage, dependents with special needs and if you are a business owner.
The benefits of a Will written by a solicitor far outweigh the cost. Solicitors are familiar with the law and can advise on the options available to an individual in accordance with their specific circumstances. They can advise on the more complex elements of Inheritance Tax and make sure your Will is suitable for your closest loved ones who are set to inherit from your estate. Solicitors can also avoid common mistakes around the specifics of signing and witnessing being made. A Will which has not been executed properly is invalid and will cause significant problems when you have passed away. A mistake or lack of planning can be very costly to put right!
Many avoid making a Will because they imagine their assets will go automatically to their partner, or that their family will be left to decide how to make the distribution. But without a Will, the ‘intestacy rules’ come into play, which govern how a person’s estate is distributed if they die without a Will (‘intestate’).
The intestacy rules are written in legislation and have an order of priority as to who will inherit from and have control over an estate when you pass away. The intestacy rules do not provide for any cohabiting partner, irrespective of the length of the relationship. The intestacy rules do not offer any control or flexibility over your estate when you die. You will have no control over who benefits, or indeed when someone benefits from your estate as you would a Will.
Another reason for making sure you have a Will in place is to provide for any children you have who are under the age of 18. You can include the appointment of guardians in your Will and direct your guardians on how you would like your children to be brought up if the unthinkable were to happen. Your guardians can also work together with your appointed executors and trustees to make your children are suitably provided for.
Marriage and divorce also have an impact on the Will making process.
There are some potential traps that a solicitor can make sure are avoided. One trap is the automatic revocation of a Will if you subsequently marry or enter into a civil partnership. A solicitor can make sure that any expected marriage or civil partnership does not revoke a Will. Similarly, during the process of getting divorced, any gift made to the ex-spouse will become invalid, meaning your estate may not be provided for and creating an intestacy situation.
Equally, if there is no Will in place and something were to happen before the divorce is completed then the intestacy rules would apply and, again, it would be the spouse (soon to be ex-spouse)who would benefit, not the children or a new partner, parents or siblings. This may not be the ideal outcome and the only way to ensure that wishes are carried out is to make a new Will to cover the current situation and this can be done at any stage of the separation and divorce process.
 Royal London, December 2018
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.